I thinks it’s safe to say many of us are feeling a little out of shape following the excesses of Christmas and New Year. With that in mind we thought we would take the opportunity to discuss obesity in pets, which is becoming an increasingly common issue. In the UK, the PDSA charity report that 1 in 3 dogs, 1 in 4 cats and 1 in 4 rabbits are obese. Animals that are overweight have shortened life spans, their quality of life is adversely affected, and they are predisposed to other conditions including osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus and certain types of neoplasia.
So how do we know whether our pets are overweight? There is no perfect weight for individual breeds and we would not recommend looking at breed specific weight charts that can be found online. The best approach is to look at your pet’s body shape and assess body fat. We would expect the animal to have a visible waist, with the body tapering from the ribcage when viewed from above. Can you feel your pet’s ribcage? You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs without an excess covering of fat and if you cannot, then it may be time to make some changes.
Diet is key to tackling obesity. A good quality diet fed in proportions guided by the pet food manufacturer is key. We would also advise weighing food before feeding. A little extra every day can have a significant impact on weight gain. Also do not forget that manufacturer’s guidance on feeding is a general rule of thumb. Suggested proportions can vary a little depending on the pet’s lifestyle. Treats are significant cause of obesity, especially in our canine companions. Many of our pets have learnt to beg and it can be very tempting to give in to pleading eyes. A little goes a long way. Feeding a dog one human biscuit is the equivalent of a woman eating a hamburger and for a cat one crisp the equivalent of eating half a hamburger. A food diary can be invaluable for making us realise just how many extras we are feeding our pets!
Increasing the amount of exercise for our pets can also be helpful. Increasing the length of a walk by 10 minutes can make a huge difference or you can simply increase the frequency of them. An alternative to extra walks is an extra play session with ball throwing in the garden. We appreciate it is difficult to exercise your cat but play sessions can certainly help.
If you are struggling to diet your pet then please do feel free to pop in to see us. We can guide you on suitable calorie controlled diets, feeding habits, exercise and give you weight targets. There are also sometimes medical reasons why they may not be losing weight. A fairly common condition in dogs is an underactive thyroid gland or hypothyroidism. This occurs when the thyroid function is below normal. Thyroid hormone controls the body’s metabolism and so as a result the metabolism slows down, the dog feels lethargic and gains weight. It is easy to diagnose with a simple blood test and treatable with daily medication. Interestingly, this is not a condition we see in cats. Another common reason for our pets gaining weight is slowing down due to arthritis. We can often prescribe pain relief so they can continue to enjoy exercise which will help to prevent piling on the pounds which inevitably makes arthritis worse.
So if you have any concerns about your pet’s weight or exercise regime we would be delighted to help. Please feel free to give us a call on 0118 9793200. From all of us here at St Vincents, we wish you and your pets a happy and healthy 2019!
Katie Love is a veterinary surgeon at St Vincents Veterinary Surgery, an independent practice offering personal care for all your pets. Katie has a keen interest in feline and canine medicine and can be contacted at the surgery if you have any concerns about your pet’s health.